Asthma is the leading cause of chronic illness in children, with more than 6 million children affected nationwide. And it is a particular challenge among Ohio children. About 250,000 children in the Buckeye State suffer from asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While deaths due to asthma are less common than they once were, they still occur, and are generally preventable. So what can be done to reduce asthma-related fatalities?

Education is critical. It’s important to know what can cause an asthma attack. There are many potential triggers, including dust mites, pet dander, mold, tobacco and wood smoke, or the exhaust from an idling school bus. Asthma sufferers should always try to avoid known triggers and carry a rescue inhaler to help reopen airways after an asthma attack has begun.

But the best asthma treatment means more than just reacting when an attack occurs. Current treatment options mean asthma can – and should – be controlled and attacks eliminated.

National and international guidelines like the Global Initiative for Asthma have been recommending that every child, adolescent and adult who has persistent asthma receive daily inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) treatments. For most with persistent asthma, ICS-containing controller medications are the best choice to effectively suppress the inflammation that asthma causes. ICS controllers have been shown to reduce the risk of serious attacks, even in patients with infrequent symptoms.

Implementing and sticking to daily ICS treatments is part of a comprehensive asthma control plan that you develop with your child’s doctor. Regular use of controllers, combined with the use of a rescue inhaler for emergencies and limiting asthma trigger exposure, makes us hopeful no child will ever suffer an asthma-related death again.

To help spread the word about how to recognize and control asthma, AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership runs the Healthy Hoops program, which will come to Athens this month and will feature basketball clinics, health screenings, physical activity, and health workshops. Healthy Hoops is a community-based program that uses basketball as a platform to teach how to better understand and manage asthma and associated health conditions.

Nationally, more than 20,000 children and their families have participated in Healthy Hoops since the program began in 2002.

Raising awareness by involving children and their loved ones in fun ways of learning how to manage their asthma condition is a step in the right direction.

Being diagnosed with asthma should not be a sentence to a life of poor health, let alone a death sentence. By raising awareness of the programs and treatments available, and how to access them, we can help children with asthma live normal, happy lives.

Maureen George, Ph.D., R.N., is a nationally recognized asthma expert who works with AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership on its Healthy Hoops program. For more information about AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership, visit www.amerihealthcaritaspartnership.org.

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